Interview with Benjamin Moreau, Artem Shevchenko (20.07.2019)

In this episode, the guests are Deputy Head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine Benjamin Moreau and Director of the Communication Department of Ministry of Internal Affairs Artem Shevchenko.

Popova: Hello, this is a new episode of the “Eurointegrators” program, and my guests today are Benjamin Moreau, Deputy Head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine and Artem Shevchenko, Director of the Communication Department of Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Benjamin, the first question is to you. How do you rate the last presidential election in Ukraine?

Moreau: Good afternoon, and thank you very much for the invitation. As you know the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission has been invited by the government of Ukraine in 2014, and we observe the human rights situation throughout Ukraine, including Crimea and across the contact line. We don’t specifically observe and report on the elections, there is organization like OSCE ODIHR, that are very qualified to do so, but we do observe specifically what relates to the civic space – freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly. So, in this frame, we have reported in our last quarterly report that the presidential elections were inclusive, were peaceful and also largely competitive. Also worth noting that the transition was done very democratically, which is very positive.

Popova: Which violations you’ve been noticed?

Shevchenko: There were a lot of violations and criminal proceedings of course, their number went to hundreds, but since a criminal trial has its length, the result appears in time. Let’s say, the biggest result within the presidential election period is that we have suspected the mayor of one of the Kiev region centers for bribing voters. And he was also suspected of two other articles of the criminal code so he was discharged from his position by court, was forbidden to perform his duties of the mayor, and it’s all happened according to the research of the criminal investigation. But there will be courts more, therefore let’s not make conclusions beforehand, and then it will be clear what investigation and prosecution will prove, and how the accused will defend himself. But from the point of view of the prevention, I think that our national police and the Ministry of Interior Affairs have worked very well. We have shown by such preconceived and even psychological steps in the presidential electionб that there will be no bribe – all violations will be initially recorded, appropriate decisions on registration and investigation will be taken and, if there is some evidence, it will be brought to court. By the way, I would like to remind you that from the viewpoint of preventionб in the Odessa region, the first verdict was set of the actual detention for bribing voters, and it is for 5 years and 6 months. Now an appeal is being considered, and it will be interesting to see whether this verdict can stand of accusation and whether there will be a real punishment of this woman who bribed the voters during last year’s elections to the united territorial community. If it stands – it will be a precedent.

Popova: How many law enforcers provided the order? Do you somehow cooperate with NGOs in this field?

Shevchenko: Yes, we have a close cooperation with the civil network “OPORA”, which specializes in elections and compliance with the law in presidential, local, parliamentary campaigns. We have a clear understanding with them, and our cooperation is quite effective. They are one of the leading non-governmental organizations that specializes precisely in this area of elections and our partners appreciate it too. They teach our policemen, they give them methodical recommendations, manuals depending on the campaign. We also train our police personnel, guards, how to respond, how to read the law, how to understand it, how not to be mistaken in the norms of the law. Because the law can be different – the presidential is one law, parliamentary is another one, and what is concerning local elections is the third law. But in general, in all fields the Ministry of Internal Affairs is the main body for the law enforcement and investigation of criminal proceedings, and it is certainly with the procedural leadership of the Prosecutor’s office. You know, we have enough forces, this is actually all the forces that are available on election day, all possible and available forces of our law enforcement system, as well as cadets of our universities are involved. Today, their graduation took place, for about 600 of them – future investigators, operatives, criminologists, junior lieutenants, senior lieutenants graduated today, and we also involve them in the elections.

Popova: How many people worked on this presidential elections?

Shevchenko: We evaluated the number of about 130 thousand of people, and they are all the representatives of the system – policemen and guardsmen and rescuers of the State Service of Ukraine for Emergency Situations. And of course the border guards are in their mode at the crossing points of the border line with temporarily uncontrolled territories.

Popova: Do you monitor the political advertising and propaganda? Was it tracked, will it be tracked? How legal it is?

Shevchenko: Of course, this is the first thing to be monitored and in the easiest way, I would say so, because these information data and their amount are in the public domain, so there are lots of them and they can be analyzed and counted. And we have a lot of administrative protocols. This is still an administrative responsibility in our legislation. This is a violation of the rules of placement, because not everywhere you can place, a violation of the release, violation of the silence day – these are all electoral violations that fall under the rules of the administrative code. Despite the fact that the legislation prescribes quite symbolic punishments – 100 or 150 or 300 UAH – the police still reacts, they have to react from the point of view of the prevention. We are establishing the information who posted the information, whose construction it is, who placed it without output data, then we are writing down an administrative protocols, submitting and going to court, the court imposes a penalty. And this happens despite the seemingly pettiness of such offenses and their mass character, especially that was at the first stage of the last presidential campaign. We see that our police response measures discipline the campaign participants. Their violations are becoming less and less. More participants understand that all payments should be exclusively taken from the electoral fund, printing of campaign products and their placement should be exclusively managed in the manner prescribed by law, not anywhere, with the indication of output data and who is responsible for printing and so on. Gradually we discipline the campaign participants.

Popova: Benjamin, the question is to you, have the necessary conditions been created for voting people who are living on the occupied territories?

Moreau: The authorities have put forward a legal framework, so that people on both sides of the contact line, everywhere on the territory, could vote during the presidential elections. So people who were residing in the self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic or self-proclaimed Luhansk Republic could go on the first round and on the second round to vote. But the main problem that people have been facing, for those who reside across the contact line, is that in order to vote first of all you have to come to mainland Ukraine to register for the first round. You have to cross a second time to register for the second round, and then obviously have are to cross one time and the second time for the first and the second round to vote. Meaning people have to cross the contact line four times, and the difficulty is, as you know very well, freedom of movement is very much restricted. It takes between 2 hours to 12 hours to cross the contact line in very difficult conditions because of queues, because of insecurity. And also to cross the contact line it cost a lot of money, you have to pay for the bus, to be able to cross the contact line. Also you have seen that the president was at Stanytsia Luhanska, where the bridge has been destroyed for more than four years. People, who want to cross, cross it under terrible conditions. Most of the people are elderly people, and it’s very difficult to cross the bridge and to go mainland Ukraine to vote. Our teams were actually at the crossing points on the first round and the second round to see whether a lot of people were coming to cross, and actually very few people were crossing from the self-proclaimed republics to mainland Ukraine during the election day. So the main problem was not the law, the law was in place and was good and access was good, so the problem is the restriction on freedom of movement and the fact that in Ukraine there is an ongoing conflict, that impede people from moving freely.

Popova: I heard that this time some candidates to members of parliament are going to bring some people from the occupied territory to mainland Ukraine for voting. How are you going to cope with this situation?

Shevchenko: We will act purely within the framework of the current legislation, and if it allows citizens of Ukraine who temporarily live in uncontrolled territories or periodically cross the contact line to vote, then it is a decision of the law and it can be done. Another thing is that it is impossible to violate the law in this case, and the police, even in those polling stations that are along the contact line, will clearly follow the law and counteract the violation, if small, let’s say administrative, for example during the campaign and in more serious case – if someone breaks the election, or by any other means, tries to distort the elector’s will. So everything that will interfere with the lawful free voting will be reacted, stopped, and then brought to responsibility. If the voting at these polling stations along the contact line will be conducted in accordance with the law, then the police will just observe and maintain the rule of law.

Popova: How is the preparation to parliamentary elections going? Which violations do you register?

Shevchenko: This slide shows a general array of appeals to the law enforcements since the beginning of calendar campaigns of early parliamentary elections. In the journal of a single account of applications and messages, 2559 such appeals were registered. According to these appeals, 101 criminal proceedings were opened, that means the information was put into a single register for judicial investigations. Over the last day, there were 5 of them! There were 551 administrative protocols, and as you can see, during a day they were 60, in total – 175 such calls and signals received. It’s in July. These are events by regions. We see that the largest number of such reports concerns illegal campaigning, bribing voters, and preventing the exercise of electoral laws is In Zaporizhzhia oblast – 219. Kharkiv region – 224. Kiev leads with 253. These are densely populated regions and there is an active struggle there, but it also goes in other regions.

Now we see that these reports are transformed into certain criminal incitements, at 7 o’clock a.m. we see that 101 criminal proceedings were registered. It can be seen by regions and according to the articles of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. We see that the largest 53 criminal proceedings were filed under Article 157 of the Criminal Code – interference with the exercise of electoral law. 26 criminal proceedings under article 160 – bribing the voter, 16 – under the articles on hooliganism related to elections, as well as there were two thefts.

Popova: I see that there is signal about journalists as well.

Shevchenko: Right, 345.1 – threat to violence against a journalist, there is one such registration, and all these proceedings will be investigated, and we hope that all this will come to court with the indictment. And this is a big number that shows administrative protocols.

Popova: But for illegal campaigning, for instance in Latvia, fines reach a million euros.

Shevchenko: This question goes to the legislator. Legislator can set 20 million, but if the legislation is prescribed such a rule…

Popova: I think 300 Hr is a simply unserious amount.

Shevchenko: I roughly say, the Article 212.13 compiles 444 protocols, which is the production or distribution of pre-election campaign, printed materials that don’t contain the output data. So no need to react on this? Even if it’s a ridiculous fine. Or if it is violation of the placing materials order – 59 protocols including advertising and placing it in unsuitable places. It is also necessary to teach the participants of the election process, agitators, team members that all this can be done only in special places. All this will undoubtedly discipline both voters and participants. Don’t forget that at parliamentary elections in our country there are participants several times more. We had 44 participants in the presidential elections, and now we have more than 5 thousand of candidates. Therefore, of course, we will have an array of all these numbers.

Popova: During the first half of 2019, the National Journalists Union of Ukraine and NGOs registered 36 attacks on journalists. How do the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission monitor these cases?

Moreau: Indeed, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission is monitoring what we call the civic space – freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression. And that includes attacks against journalists. In March this year, we have issued a report on the civic space ahead of the presidential election, I’ve brought a copy here, and it’s available on our website. It’s a public report, that basically documents all the problems that we have identified. So, the work of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission is to document the violations and to formulate recommendations to the national stakeholders. We publically report on the situation, but also we meet regularly with the national stakeholders, we have met very repeatedly with the Ministry of the Interior. And our messages are always very clear. The first one is whenever there are attacks on journalists, we call on the authorities to condemn publically attacks against journalists. That’s the first thing. The second point is that every time there is an attack, it should be promptly investigated and the perpetrators need to be brought to account. It is essential, because impunity fuels future attacks. So, it is essential that the cycle of impunity be addressed and the perpetrators brought to account, and that’s something that we discuss very openly with the authorities.

Popova: What can you say about these cases? How does the Ministry of Internal Affairs react to these cases with journalists?

Shevchenko: I can say that during the election campaigns, and in fact we are having two election campaigns for the last half year, journalistic investigations and coverage of the current life and parliamentary campaigns are usually intensified. The number of media becomes larger and the number of dramatic discussions, publications, investigations, and conflicts of interests becomes definitely larger. And we relate this precisely with the intensification of the election campaign, I woudn’t say that there is a reduction, there is some kind of quantitative decrease, but the number is 36, and it is quite high. Therefore, one should consider that probably some of these dramatic illegal acts are connected with journalistic activity dictated by the election campaign, especially many of the electoral campaigners create them through a new media communication reality: through blogging, social networks and moreover, it leads to a nonprofessional journalism. Headquarters, candidates, their support teams are doing thisб and I don’t exclude that many of such cases may apply to such journalists. Perhaps they are unprofessional and unregistered, which is the reality of our time. And perhaps because of these political clashes, we see such a high number, although it is diminished. Each of these criminal proceedings is being investigated by the police.

Popova: These are data given by the National Union of journalists if Ukraine. Of course, not every case is registered, not always journalists write claims to police, but how many of incidents are brought to court in fact?

Shevchenko: In the 5 months, 6 indictments were transferred to the court for 8 criminal offenses of the specified category. 4 acts under the article 171– interference, 2 acts under the article 345 – a threat and 2 acts under the article 347 – property damage. But this doesn’t mean that these proceedings were initiated precisely in this period. The investigation has a certain length, a certain logic, but they are gradually being transmitted to the court.

Popova: One-sixth of them goes to court.

Shevchenko: We must understand with what we are comparing, it is possible to evaluate it differently. Cases are transferred to court and investigations are completed. Part of a large array of acts, in agreement with the prosecutor’s office is closed. This is due to various factors in particular, and because journalists sometimes don’t want to cooperate with the investigation.

Popova: They are not ready to spend their time on it.

Shevchenko: The incident that is reported as an attack, doesn’t seem like a real crime for them, journalists have conflict in a public and don’t want to bring it to court and have the status of victims. There are those who cooperate with the police, witness, and such cases are transferred to the court. Let’s say the case of Tkach on preventing of his journalistic activity at the airport by security guards of one Russian orientated politician, who nowadays wants to become an authority. This case is referred to the court and should be considered, but you know what the situation is in our courts.

Popova: Unfortunately, there is one murder of a journalist this year. This is a murder of Cherkassy journalist Vadym Komarov. What is the situation right now with this case?

Shevchenko: I can tell you about this situation – it is being investigated under the article 151 as a particularly grave crime, intentional murder. There are three versions. A version that is related to his journalistic activities, a version of an accidental crime and one more. But, of course, in the priority – the version that this crime is related to his journalistic activities, if evidence is collected that will testify this – the crime may be qualified additionally or retrained. Actually, it’s not a matter of qualification. The 151-st article qualification as intentional murder allows carrying out all necessary complex of operative investigative measures, including covert measures, in order to find persons who may be suspected, but there are no such suspects so far, the investigation is still going on.

Popova: How about the UN Monitoring Mission in Ukraine? Do you monitor this case?

Moreau: Indeed. First of all, we are appall by the death of Vadym Komarov, that’s the third journalist since 2014 who has been killed. The two previous ones were Mr. Sheremeta and Mr. Buzyna, and so far, the investigation and the trial are protracted, so basically there is a cycle of impunity, and we are much call on for the cycle of impunity to be addressed and the perpetrators to be brought to account. On this very case, we understand that for the time being, the perpetrators haven’t been yet identified, and we hope very much that they will be identified, and they will be basically investigated and brought to account. So, for the time being, we are observing the developments and we will be reporting in the case engaging with the authorities if need be. But again, the messages are remain the same – attacks against journalists have to seize and the perpetrators need to be brought to account. That is essential.

Popova: By the way, what’s going on with the investigation about Sheremeta’s killing? I heard a statement from a former General prosecutor, Mr. Shokin, that he knew who could order his killing, and the investigation was blocked by one power person in Ukraine.

Shevchenko: This crime is investigated by the national police as especially serious, so if someone including the former General prosecutor has some information, which will help to solve it, I can advise only one thing – to appeal to the national police and the national police will appeal to Mr. Shokin itself with the requirement to interrogate him as a witness in this case, if he knows something. But the investigation doesn’t release any information on this subject, because all the possible information that the investigation considered to be necessary to inform to the society, was given a few years ago, in February 2017, when there was a big press conference, when we revealed certain results of examinations, explosive devices, the vehicle, potential suspects who were seen by cameras. But since then I would like you to understand, we don’t allow anyone who doesn’t have an access to the materials to distribute information about all this. If the investigation will consider it necessary to do it, I’m sure it will do it. We are carrying out communication events very quickly and spreading specific information during them, but now the situation is like this. The investigation works, and this crime is not easy to investigate, especially because the victim was a citizen of the Russian Federation and before his death he had a numerous contacts in the aggressor country, which is essential but can not be investigated until the full extent as the investigation would like it to be.

Popova: I think it happened last year, Olena Prytula was asking the General Prosecutor’s office to requalificate this case to terroristic attack and to give the investigation to the Security Service of Ukraine.

Shevchenko: It is a question to the prosecutor’s office. Not to me. She didn’t apply to the Ministry of Interior, she appealed to the Prosecutor’s office. It is logical to ask her about the answer she received there. I know about the order of the Prosecutor General’s office to investigate this especially serious crime to the national police of Ukraine, and the main department investigates this criminal proceeding certainly in cooperation with other law enforcements and secret services in that segment, where this cooperation is possible according to the norms of the criminal procedural code.

Popova: Our program will be aired the last day before the election, and there will be of course some situations with journalists in future. What could you recommend journalists? What should they do in order that police qualifies this attack in a right way with a right criminal code cases, and in order that investigation could be effective?

Shevchenko: I would like to advice to collaborate with the police. As Tkach did, when he was restricted from doing his journalist job at the airport, everything was documented on the video, a claim and a testimony went to police with a confirmation of the evidence from his colleagues, operators, and journalists who were present at the time of the offense. The case is brought to court. It is necessary to understand, that such journalists as Tkach profess the style of active investigative journalism. They enter the offices, into the rooms of officials not when they are invited, but when they consider it to be necessary. Psychologically, it provokes at least dissatisfaction and as the maximum – the conflict. I cannot wish them not to do this, because this is a creative technique of reporter in their genre. While it is impossible to expect, that this may cause some kind of affection and will be welcomed with flowers. But, of course, one cannot beat, interfere, harm the technique. This style of persistent investigative journalism certainly provokes dissatisfaction of these officials. But if this crosses the border and turns into assault or obstruction then you have to cooperate with the police. The police will prosecute such offenders.

Popova: There is one more interesting case in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. This is the case of the National Guard’s Sergeant Vitaliy Markiv. What can you say about this case? What’s going on here?

Shevchenko: This Friday, the verdict of the court will initially be announced in the city Pavia concerning Ukrainian guard Markiv who by our belief was accused illegally and unreasonably. He was accused not in murder, but in affiliation, and it is essential, since even the prosecution admits that they haven’t direct evidences that exactly this person killed journalist Rocchelli on May 24, 2014 on the battlefield in Slavyansk. He is accused of involvement in the unit or with other individuals and as a result of that the Italian reporter Rocchelli and his Russian interpreter Andrew Mironov were killed. The defense was trying to prove, that Markiv served the law military service, with the help of officials witnesses, who were with him on the battlefield and with Mykola Balan – the commander directly to this unit and the senior commander in the zone of ATO. He was acting by clear military orders of the national guard and legitimately was protecting strategic object on the mountain Karachun namely communication retranslating tower. This is prescribed in the legal tasks for the national guard, and he committed those actions, that in the opinion of witness protection couldn’t lead to the death of Rocchelli, who, as was confirmed by the Italian Ambassador, was in this zone, despite the recommendations of the Italian Ambassador not to go there, despite all warnings that it was a dangerous area. The reporter was on the separatist side. In such a zone where active military operations happen, he appeared to be in the military orders of the separatists. And he was a victim of a fire, incidentally, an unknown fire. Examination didn’t even establish with a result of what reporter Rocchelli was killed – a projectile or a charge or a bullet. I assume that this was a mortar mine, and defense showed that Markiv and his unit didn’t have such kind of weapon, didn’t use it and he even couldn’t give the unit an order to use this weapon, because he had a small rank and a small post. He was actually an ordinary archer, who was on his duty of protecting the object. We do believe that this story is certainly provoked by some anti-Ukrainian pro-Russian forces in Europe as a whole and in Italy in particular, who are very active and very effective in their hybrid informational war, and used Markiv’s visit to his parents for the first time since he left Italy where he lived, worked and studied from 12 years old. These forces are working against our country with such a huge informational and psychological operation – the accusation of Vitaly Markiv in the crime against the reporter. Unfortunately, reporters who visit the battlefield and who are directly in the battle zone of the collision sides and in this case, this reporter was from the illegal militants of pro-Russian terrorist Girkin – they can fall under fire. Whose that fire? The investigation considers that it was a fire from the Ukrainian side, based on testimonies of those people who were with Rocchelli. The protection and witnesses of Markiv convinced that he couldn’t become the source of that fire which had killed Rocchelli, and the militants on the contrary had such a kind of weapon and actively used it.

Popova: When Markiv was arrested?

Shevchenko: He was detained on the last day of June 2017 in the city of Bologna when he arrived to see his mother.

Popova: And how do you think, when this narrative appeared that Ukrainian military or Ukrainians are shooting journalists, doing something bad with foreign journalists? When it became massive from Russian propaganda?

Shevchenko: When they began to increase their influence in Europe, in particular in Italy.

Popova: And also after the publication of the lists of foreign journalists, which were amplified in cooperation with terroristic groups.

Shevchenko: I am not ready to evaluate it, there may be some kind of connection with that, but maybe not but by and large, during all five years of this Donbass War, I am trying to mention how many journalists were killed while trying to highlight this conflict. I already mentioned Rocchelli with Mironov, I remember the Russian reporters in Metalist, then Nadia Savchenko was judged for this, I remember one of the reporters in Donetsk, who became a victim of accidental fire during the assault of the national guards, and then a photographer from the Ukrainian newspaper “Segodnia” who died from the mine in Pieski.

Popova: There was another military journalist Labutkin in Debaltsevo.

Shevchenko: Yes of course, but he carried a military service and weapons in his hands. As a military reporter, as a part of the forces of ATO. Unfortunately, such conflict, and even more – the war of such intensity that Russia has unleashed against us, cannot go without civilian victims and media victims. And of course, this is exactly the responsibility of the aggressor country – the Russian Federation.

Popova: Thank you Benjamin, thank you Artem, that you joined us in this program. Thanks to all who watched us. See you next week.

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